Tag Archives: Muddy River

Water on the Farm – The Spring

The Whirlwind Hill farm never, as far as I know, lacked water. My ancestors chose well when they settled there. Natural springs flowed through the fields and down the hills. Muddy River provided water for animals, fish for dinner, and fertile land for crops.

The Whirlwind Hill land I own with my brother shares many of these springs, one of which flows from the cow pond, under the lane, and onto our property. My parents dug a well when they built the house. This well water, although abundant, displeased my mother who found it too “hard” (too full of minerals). She put a water softener in the basement because, she said, softer water made for a better lather and a good “soak in the tub.” But we avoided drinking the bad tasting softened water and bemoaned the impossible-to-rinse-off soap film left on our bodies after bathing.

Now that I’m an urban dweller I turn on my faucets with near-certainty that water will flow into my teakettle or onto my sudsy dishes. Our water is always cold. It always tastes good. It’s always available. But there’s nothing quite so exhilarating as the icy water from an underground spring. It feels new and sparkling as it escapes from its source and meanders over rocks and vegetation, through the culvert, and on into the green, green fields.

"Spring Water Under the Lane," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

“Spring Water Under the Lane,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

On Friday:  June Window

Muddy River

Before the arrival of my ancestors to the hills of East Wallingford, Connecticut, a meandering river kept company with the land. It flowed through the flat acres at the bottom of the hill and continued on through Northford. The earliest deeds to the farm refer to it as Muddy River. When the land was settled and the farms built, the moist banks made rich pastureland for cows and entertaining playgrounds for children.

Muddy River, Carol Crump Bryner, Gouache

Muddy River, Carol Crump Bryner, Gouache

The river connected the two significant farms in my life. It flowed not only through the Hall farm – the farm of my mother – but also through the Newton farm in Northford, Connecticut – the farm of my father’s aunt and uncle. Until recently I hadn’t thought of the two “Muddy Rivers” of my childhood as one continuous waterway. The Newtons and the Crumps gathered at the Newton farm beside the cool stream to picnic near the little summer house and swing on the hammocks. We paddled in the shallow rocky water, caught lamprey eels, pulled leeches off our legs, and refused to enter the spider-filled outhouse. In Northford the river was still a river.

But in Wallingford, by the time I was born, the part of the river at the foot of Whirlwind Hill was gone. In 1943 the town dug a hole and flooded the land to create the MacKenzie Reservoir. I never knew the Muddy River of my mother and grandfather and his father before him. I’ve searched for photos of the way it used to look, but have found only this one of my grandmother Agnes in 1921 with her three children and some of the neighbors. In the background is the farm that belonged at that time to Grace and Walter Ives. The children and my grandmother dressed for a party and brought toy boats to float along the bank of Muddy River.

Agnes Hall and children on the bank of Muddy River, 1921

Agnes Hall and children on the bank of Muddy River, 1921

In 2009 the town of Wallingford drained the reservoir so it could be dredged and cleaned. For the first time I saw the path of the river, the stumps of trees that had grown next to the Muddy River School, and the footprint of the old road where, it is said, George Washington rode on his way from New Haven to Boston in 1775 and 1789. At the far south end of the reservoir an old stone wall emerged from the water. It ran through one of our fields and must have once ended at the river. My brother and I kept meaning to walk out and explore it, but time passed and before we could go the reservoir was filled, and all traces of the past were again out of sight.

Reservoir Drained, 2009

Reservoir Drained, 2009

It must have been peaceful and beautiful along the river, but the reservoir is my own personal history, and I love it. I fished there, watched birds there, and found peace sitting on the front steps of the house and looking over its quiet water.

A View of the Reservoir, Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

A View of the Reservoir, Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

On  Monday:  Decoration Day

A Window on the Landing

The Hall farmhouse on Whirlwind Hill set the standards for all the houses I’ve lived in. Its staircases, wallpapered rooms, tall windows, wood plank floors, attics, odd-shaped closets, and paneled doors with round knobs formed my notions of the way a home should look.

In 1973, after living in Alaska for several years, my husband and I were ready to buy a house. Expecting our first child, and eager to start nesting, we were dismayed by how few houses were for sale in Anchorage. Finally, through a friend, we found a downtown house about to go on the market. It wasn’t pretty – certainly not by Connecticut standards. This big pinkish box with brown shutters had a cement front stoop whose left side sank into the ground. But when I walked through the front door I came face to face with a center staircase leading to the second floor bedrooms.

As I walked up the stairs I pretended not to notice the red shag carpet, lumpy plastered ceilings, and shiny black louver doors. I was hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I wasn’t. On the landing, at the top of the stairs, the afternoon light shone through a tall window and cast patterns and shadows on the walls and floor. The bedroom doors were paneled, and they had old round metal doorknobs. It felt like home. We bought the house, and a few years later I did a painting of the landing window. I still have everything in the painting (yes – the plant lives!) except for the window, which, during a 1982 remodel made way for a door into a new bedroom.

"Hall Window," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 1978

“Hall Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 1978

In the farmhouse, at the top of the back staircase, there was also a landing with a wood floor, multiple doorways, and a window. I have no pictures of this window from the inside, but I do remember the importance of having that light at the top of the dark, narrow stairs. I also remember the view, which in my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall’s time would have been to Muddy River and his farm’s pastureland. From the outside the window is not striking, but like much of the rest of the house it was on the inside where the memories and the views were made.

"Farmhouse Window from Outside," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2014

“Farmhouse Window from Outside,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2014

On Wednesday:  Wildflowers